Pack Lose in Shootout; Clinch Atlantic Division Title
Saturday April 11th 2009, 1:52 am

By the time Tyler Eckford scored the shootout-deciding goal to give the Lowell Devils a 3-2 win over the Hartford Wolf Pack on Friday the result no longer mattered.  Thanks to Portland’s 6-5 regulation victory over Providence, the Wolf Pack had already clinched their first Atlantic Division title since the 2003-2004 season.

There’s rarely much to enjoy about a game with the trap-happy Devils, and Friday’s match was no exception.  The two teams went scoreless in the first period, with Lowell boasting the better of the scoring chances and a 12-6 shot advantage by the time the buzzer sounded to mark the end of the session.  Goaltender Miika Wiikman, making his first start since March 23, was forced to make the better of the stops, as the Pack did little to test freshman backstop Jeff Frazee.

The monotony of the second period was interrupted early by a pair of goals less than a half minute apart.  The Wolf Pack got on the board first when leading scorer Artem Anisimov took the puck in the neutral zone and carried it up the middle for a toe-drag shot from the right of the hashmarks.  Frazee made the stop, but Brodie Dupont drove the net hard and was able to jam the rebound in for his 18th of the season at 4:39.

Lowell stuck back just 27 seconds later when Patrick Davis deflected Justin Pender’s slap shot from the left point high on Wiikman’s glove side.

The middle period ended with the teams locked in a 1-1 tie and the Devils holding a 17-14 lead on the second period shot clock.

Lowell took the lead early in the third period, scoring 2:18 into the frame when rookie Matt Halischuk was able to jam the puck over the goal line during a goal mouth scramble.  Halischuk’s 14th of the season came on the Devils’ second — and last — shot of the period.

The Wolf Pack poured on the pressure the rest of the way, ultimately firing a total of 12 shots on Frazee’s cage in the period.  Their persistence finally paid off with 2:11 remaining in regulation when Bobby Sanguinetti’s shot from the right wing boards hit Eckford in front and deflected past Frazee to knot the score at two.

The teams finished the overtime period scoreless, with Lowell holding a 3-2 edge in shots, despite Hartford playing the final 35 seconds of the extra session with the man advantage.  That set the squads up for their second shootout of the season.

After Anisimov and Sanguinetti canceled out goals by Eckford and Ryan Murphy, the shootout went to extra rounds, where both Anisimov and Sanguinetti fired their second chances wide.  Wiikman, who finished the game with 32 saves, thwarted Rheaume’s second bid, but was once again unable to stone Eckford, allowing the 23-year old defenseman to give the sixth place Devils the meaningless extra point.

The Wolf Pack will close out its regular season at home on Saturday night when they host the AHL’s worst team, local rivals the Springfield Falcons.

Video highlights are available from AHL  Live.

Notes:

  • The Pack had trouble with the Devils all season, finishing the eight game season series with a 2-4-0-2 record.
  • Wolf Pack captain Greg Moore, who suffered a concussion in a game against Lowell on March 18th, returned to the line-up after a 10-game absence.
  • Tough guy Brandon Sugden also made his return after missing the Wolf Pack’s last game with an undisclosed injury.
  • The division title is the third in the 12-year history of the franchise.
  • Left wing Dane Byers, who’s been rehabbing from November ACL reconstruction surgery, was cleared for full practice with the team earlier this week, and could return within a week or two.
  • P.A. Parenteau, Tommy Pyatt, and Dale Weise were once again unavailable to play.

Scoring:
2. Dupont (18) (Anisimov) 4:39
2. Davis (13) (Pender, Mills) 5:06
3. Halischuk (14) (Mills, Vasyunov) 2:18
3. Sanguinetti (6) (Owens, Bell) 17:49

Lines: (changed throughout)
Bell – Rissmiller – McBride
Dupont – Anisimov – Owens
Ouellette – Moore – Crowder
DiDiomete – Sugden

Potter – Sanguinetti
Urquhart – Sauer
Nightingale – Fahey
Stich

Wiikman / Zaba

Three Stars:
1. Jeff Frazee
2. Brad Mills
3. Matt Halischuk

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